My Terrarium Workshop

After one year of exploring terrarium, I conducted my maiden Terrarium Workshop today (only open to my colleagues and students).

Terrarium was first created in the late 19th century, when Dr. Nathaniel Bagshaw Ward accidentally discovered that ferns grew well in glass case. Then, it was known as the Wardian case. By using his method, plants can be transported on long sea journeys.

Strictly speaking, a terrarium is an enclosed glass container, where plants can grow in a self-sustaining ecosystem. Splitting up the word: "terra" refers to earth and "-arium" means enclose (like in aquarium). In this enclosed system, it is important to ensure that there is sufficient light and sufficient water for the plants. However, direct sunlight will heat up the glass container and kill the plants. Also, too much water might cause the roots to rot.

Terrariums are often used as an indoor decoration for homes and offices. Thus, the plants selected should be indoor plants. Sun-loving plants would not survive because terrariums cannot be exposed to direct sunlight (as mentioned above). The main difference between an open terrarium and a potted plant is the absence of the drainage holes at the bottom of the container in the former. This makes terrarium a clean living decoration to keep indoor; water cannot seep out and make a mess of your home or office.

For open terrarium, it would need to be watered every few days, depending on the humidity of the environment. Check the soil to see if it is still moist to decide.

For enclosed terrarium, the water is kept within the container. Thus, there is almost no need to water the plants. Depending on the container, the plants would need to be trimmed (cut shorter to fit inside the container) and watered (small amount) every few months. After the container has been closed for a few hours, check that there is condensation on the glass (interior). No condensation means that there is not enough water in the system.

Here's a run through some of my powerpoint slides:
[Credit: Slides background was taken from Vector Clip Art.]

In an enclosed system, the plant takes in water from the soil, releases water vapour into the air as it transpires, the water vapour condenses on the glass wall, returns back to the soil and the whole cycle repeats itself.

These are what make up a terrarium, in general.

These are the materials required to make a terrarium (dried moss is optional).

Six steps to make a simple terrarium. The most difficult but also the most important step is step 5. Whether the plants survive or not, sometimes depend on how firmly they are positioned into the soil.


Glass containers (both open and enclosed types) can be bought from nurseries, such as Hua Hng Nursery and Katong Flower Shop, or even from IkeaLau Choy Seng and King & King Wong. This is the most expensive part of the terrarium, costing about $4 to $140 (or even higher), depending on the size, shape and quality of the glass.

Stones / pebbles and coloured sand can be bought from nurseries, Daiso and many other places.

I could only manage to find dried moss at Katong Flower Shop; sphagnum moss (alternative to dried moss) at Hua Hng Nursery; expandable clay at Chin Ling Nursery and at Hua Hng Nursery. To use the expandable clay (in place of stones at the bottom of the terrarium), they have to be soaked in water first.

Charcoal used for BBQ can be used for terrarium, but do note that the pieces are usually too big; break them into small pieces before use.

Potting soil is available at nurseries and at some florist. Hua Hng Nursery even sells the more premium terrarium soil. Personally, I do not find it necessary to pay for more expensive soil. But do not go for the cheapest either! Soil need to be nutritious enough for the plants to grow well. Cost of potting soil: Chin Ling Nursery ($4.10 per pack of 5 litres), Hua Hng Nursery ($3.30 per pack of 6 litres), Katong Flower Shop ($3.50 per pack of 5 litres).

Fittonia can be bought from most stores that sells plants. Cost of each pot: Hua Hng Nursery ($4), Ikea ($3.90), Katong Flower Shop ($4).

Mini figuring decoration is the most difficult to find. To date, I have yet to see them being sold in stores. The mushroom seen in my slide (above) was made by me, using non-toxic polymer clay. I stick a toothpick into the clay mushroom and bake it in an oven.

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